Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus ruber

A very close relative of the Yellow-bellied and Red-naped sapsuckers, replacing them on the Pacific slope. It was considered to belong to the same species for some time, so differences in behavior have not been studied much until recently.
Conservation status Populations have probably declined somewhat, owing to cutting of forest in northwest, but the bird is still fairly numerous.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Coniferous forest, aspen groves; in winter, also other trees. During summer on the northwest coast, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is often in forest of hemlock or spruce. Farther south in the mountains it is found in pine forest, always with a mixture of deciduous trees such as aspen, alder, willow. In winter some move south or into lowlands, occurring in deciduous or coniferous trees.
A very close relative of the Yellow-bellied and Red-naped sapsuckers, replacing them on the Pacific slope. It was considered to belong to the same species for some time, so differences in behavior have not been studied much until recently.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Northern
  • adult female, Southern
  • adult, Northern
Feeding Behavior

Drills tiny holes in tree bark, usually in neatly spaced rows, and then returns to them periodically to feed on the sap that oozes out. Also eats bits of cambium and other tree tissues, as well as insects that are attracted to the sap. Besides drilling sap wells, also gleans insects from tree trunks in more typical woodpecker fashion, and sallies out to catch insects in the air. Berries and fruits are eaten at all seasons.


Eggs

5-6, sometimes 4-7. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 11-15 days. Both parents feed young, bringing them insects, sap, and fruit. Young leave nest 23-28 days after hatching. Parents teach young the sapsucking habit, feed them for about 10 days after they leave nest. 1 brood per year.


Diet

Includes insects, tree sap, fruit. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including many ants (taken from tree trunks). Also regularly feeds on tree sap, and on berries and fruits.


Nesting

Courtship displays include pointing bill up and swaying from side to side. Nest: Nest site is usually in deciduous tree such as aspen, alder, cottonwood, or willow, but also in firs and other conifers. Nest cavity is often high, may be 50-60' or more above ground. Both sexes help excavate. Often uses same tree in subsequent years, but not same nest cavity.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Living in a relatively temperate climate, this is the least migratory of the sapsuckers. In Pacific Northwest, birds from interior may move to coast or southward; coastal birds may be permanent residents. Southern populations may move to lower elevations or short distance south in winter.

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Migration

Living in a relatively temperate climate, this is the least migratory of the sapsuckers. In Pacific Northwest, birds from interior may move to coast or southward; coastal birds may be permanent residents. Southern populations may move to lower elevations or short distance south in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Soft, slurred whee-ur or mew, like call of Red-naped Sapsucker.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Picidae, Woodpeckers Tree-clinging Birds

Red-breasted Sapsucker

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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